If this record was a pastry, it’d be a tough-cookie. After the first listen your brain needs a couple of ice packs. Julia Holter is educated within the realm of scholarly electronic music, borrowing from cinematic ambient, classical, straight up pop, jazz and acapella. You would think that this is a sure recipe for disaster/small cult following, but it is not. The end mix is surprisingly accessible and personal. This might be one of those rare records with both elite blog praise and audience mass appeal.
Before you even attempt to give this a listen, I would recommend a good set of headphones. The level of intimate production, especially when it comes to vocals, sound so much better when you get it straight into your ear canal. Julia has a bright and commanding voice and articulates every word. Put up front in the mix, it is impossible not to draw comparisons to Joni Mitchell and her Blue album. Björk is another strong female artist worth mentioning when trying to find a comparison.
I do need to stress that Julia Holter is not just a “singer”. That would be a grave understatement. She is the mastermind composer, the brains behind the operation. Unlike her two former records, Loud City Song is recorded in a studio with a group of musicians. This instantly gives the record a little bit more of a jazz feel than the earlier stuff. My guess is that jazz musicians are the only ones capable of keeping up with the playful mazes of her composition. Check out the live clip at the bottom of the review to see how much fun they are having playing the tunes.
The tracks on the records act like mood swings. From the the slow dreamy romance of “Hello Stranger” (a cover of a soul hit from 1963) to the cabaret styled “Maxim’s II”, and then straigth to”He is running through my eyes” which is a touching light piano piece.
There are several favorites to mention. “Horns surrounding me” is one of the tracks I keep coming back to. Like a slightly more driven version of the Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis, it is very cinematic and gives you instant images of modern cities at night. Here the cool electronics flow. Next song up is “In the green wild”, a wild contrast if there ever was one. This track is very jazzy and organic, I have not heard an upright bass sound this good on record in several years. Here the vocals are playful with a slam poetry zing. I simply love all the small details in the track, where strings and horns barely surface to give a small squeal or toot. Last, but not least: “This is a true heart”, a very cheeky mix between Nouvelle Vague and Roxy Music. I almost want to call it porn groove, it balances on a knife edge between funny and just plain 80’s cheese.
Loud City Song is a little bipolar when it comes to how the songs switch the emotions around. Somehow it made me think of Lars Von Trier‘s excellent movie Melancholia, only more urban. According to my half-assed research, the album is inspired by an early 1940’s novella called Gigi by French author Colette. Now I have not read this piece of literature, but if you think of France before you close your eyes and start the album, some puzzle pieces seem to come together.
I geek out so much about the details of this album I almost feel ashamed. This is not one of those background soundtracks, this is a record where you stop songs and rewind just to hear every little sweet detail. It hooks you in with all it’s layers. Even the wonderful press photo, where several pictures of Holter are superimposed on top of each other, fit with the idea of the multi-layered sound where you can just keep digging.
If you have the opportunity, clear your schedule after everyone has gone to bed tonight and spend an hour alone with Loud City Song. You might come out with a different approach to music. It is rare to find albums that lights up both the emotional and the technical lightbulb inside your head.